Globetrotters rise to the (roof)top of Spectrum

March 5, 2009 6:30:21 PM PST
Special K had a special request before the Harlem Globetrotters went straight to the top. Could the famed red, white and blue basketball come attached to that gimmick yo-yo string? "I told my coach before the game, 'Coach, you might get mad at me if we have a loose ball because I'm not going to get that one," said Special K, laughing.

There truly might not have been a better way for the Globetrotters to close out the famed Spectrum than by going out on top.

Of the arena.

On the roof.

In one of their more bizarre locales since playing a fearsome fivesome of robots on Gilligan's Island, the Globetrotters said farewell to the Spectrum on Thursday with a game against the Washington Generals on the roof of the soon-to-be demolished arena. It was a rare chance for the Globetrotters to raise the roof before the roof gets razed.

"It's another crazy idea that we do," said Special K, real name Kevin Daley.

"You're going down," was more than trash talk, it was a legitimate scare.

The Globetrotters brought their buckets of confetti and their behind-the-back passes with them against their hapless foil, the Generals, for this over-the-top celebration of the team and the Spectrum. The Globetrotters played their first game at the Spectrum on Dec. 2, 1967 and played 72 games there before moving to the Wachovia Center. With the Spectrum to be demolished later this year, the Globetrotters decided to move on up - all the way up - for one last game.

The game had all the markings of a regulation game, complete with two 10-foot regulation baskets, and lines and logos on the court.

It did raise some questions.

What if the ball goes over the side?

What if a Globetrotter goes over the side?

Eric Nemeth, who works in public relations for Comcast-Spectacor, warned media and all the players not to walk near the end of the roof.

Everyone listened.

First, there was a walk to the upper deck, then up a couple of flights of steps, a stop on the catwalk where you're eye-to-eye with the retired number banners of Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke, and finally a fire escape ladder up a hatch. The first concern was if the Globetrotters' mascot, Globie, would be able to walk his size 32s up the ladder and fit his Mr. Met-sized head through the opening and step on to the roof.

Globie made it through the hatch - no, there was no sign of the Dharma Initiative - just a clear blue sky perfect for rooftop basketball.

Ammer Johnson, of the Generals, took a few deep breaths and grunted before taking his first step up the ladder. Another loss to the Globetrotters was nothing compared to his fear of heights. "I'm about to lose my mind," he said.

It should have made them nervous. After all, high winds once ripped a portion of the roof off the Spectrum in 1968 during a performance of the Ice Capades and the Flyers were forced to play games on the road.

The court was designed to go east to west with the city skyline as the backdrop. There was no 3-point line and no electronic scoreboard, either. Instead, four staffers held construction paper numbers to keep track of the score.

The game was scheduled for 19 minutes, 67 seconds to commemorate the Spectrum's 1967 opening, but went a bit longer because nothing is ever ordinary with the Globetrotters.

Thanks to a Monday snowstorm, the bucket of confetti tossed on the ref turned into snow.

And was that really the red, white and blue ball floating away? "Air-ball! Air-ball! Air-ball!" the Globetrotters shouted from the rooftop as their specially designed beach ball floated toward Citizens Bank Park.

Orlando Melendez played in two Final Fours with North Carolina and now goes by the nickname "El Gato" for the Globetrotters. He's spent the past year learning all the tricks, like rolling the ball arm-to-arm and spinning it on a finger through his legs.

No one prepared him, though, for shooting into a gusty wind.

"It's fun to do something new in the history of the Globetrotters," he said.

The Globetrotters have been on tour since Dec. 26 and end in April. The Globetrotters play the Generals again Saturday at Temple's Liacouras Center and Sunday at the Wachovia Center.

Those games will be played on regulation hardwood. No climbing necessary.

Philadelphia's 25-year championship drought was just a drop of confetti in the bucket for the poor Washington Generals. Yes, the Generals were foiled again by the ol' yo-yo ball and other tricks of the trade. Final score: Globetrotters 36, Generals 24.

The loss was fine with Johnson, who overcame his nerves even if it meant playing 120 feet above the Spectrum floor.

"We don't care about that," Johnson said. "It's all about having fun and putting smiles on people's faces."

When it comes to the Globetrotters making fans laugh, the sky really is the limit when a game is played on the roof.

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